Portable Computers Lead Product Parade

Efficiency and productivity are emphasized over ‘coolness’ of new technology

There was a time when new technology products were designed more for a “gee-whiz” response than a “hmm… that could be useful” reaction, but times have changed, and practicality and productivity now rule the roost–especially in insurance and financial services.

While we still may delight in the “cool” features of a tech product, most of us want to know how such a product will make our jobs easier and/or impact the bottom line, and tech product marketers are all too willing to tout such benefits.

That brings us to the current crop of cutting-edge products, led by three new portable computers designed to make life on the road easier for busy agents and other financial services professionals.

o Itronix Corp. has introduced the Duo-Touch Tablet PC, “a next-generation portable, wireless, rugged slate tablet PC for mobile professionals in industries such as telecommunications, utilities, government and insurance.”

According to Spokane, Wash.-based Itronix, the Duo-Touch improves on the company’s previous models with an upgraded Intel processor, integrated global positioning system, more memory, a brighter display, and a more rugged case.

The Duo-Touch name refers to the fact that the unit’s touch-screen can be operated with a stylus or with the user’s finger, a company representative said.

The unit utilizes the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system, making it easy to use for those already familiar with Windows XP, the company said. In addition to faster speed and better performance than previous models, the Duo-Touch includes an optional integrated GPS receiver, enabling real-time location of field personnel and assets.

An all-magnesium case for better drop/shock durability is another key improvement, said Itronix, along with an external antenna switch for improved radio performance inside vehicles. The unit weighs in at just 3.9 lbs.

According to the company, “extreme climate changes such as rain, snow, wind, dust, vibration, shock and chemical exposure will not hinder [the unit's] performance.” It is designed for exposure to temperatures ranging from -4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Duo-Touch Tablet PC carries an MSRP of $3,195, said Itronix. Details are available at www.itronix.com.

o Motion Computing has also introduced a tablet PC, the LE1600, “a slate tablet PC that enhances user productivity with its improved ergonomics, technology innovations and advanced security capabilities in a slimmer, lighter and more durable design.”

The new unit, said Austin, Texas-based Motion, includes the latest Intel Centrino mobile technology, longer battery life than previous models, and durability for “mobile professionals in health care, field sales, and service, government and education.”

Centrino technology centers on a processor that delivers higher performance and lower power consumption, which results in longer battery life.

The clipboard-sized LE1600 weighs 3.1 lbs. and runs Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005, the company said. The unit also includes 512MB (megabytes) of upgradeable memory and a 30GB (gigabyte) hard drive, which can be upgraded to 60GB. The hard drive is “shock-mounted” for increased durability.

The unit’s standard battery provides more than three hours of use, and an optional extended battery attaches flat against the back of the LE1600, the company noted. Used in tandem, the two batteries can provide up to eight hours of computing time.

The LE1600′s standard screen offers a 12.1-inch high-resolution viewing area and viewing angles of up to 180 degrees “to simplify collaboration,” said Motion. The unit also features a Digital Video Interface port for output to high-resolution flat-panel monitors and projectors.

On the security front, the LE1600 includes an embedded Trust Platform Module that enables hardware-protected encryption and secures digital certificate storage for authentication. A built-in fingerprint reader uses biometric data to prevent unauthorized access to the system and the encrypted data, the company noted.

The LE1600 carries an MSRP of $2,199, while a Celeron (lower-tier processor) version, the LE1600c, sells for $1,899 MSRP, said Motion. Details are available at www.motioncomputing.com.

o Toshiba’s Digital Products Division has re-launched its “libretto” brand with the U100 mini-notebook computer for those looking for a real lightweight unit.

According to Irvine, Calif.-based Toshiba, the unit weighs just 2.16 lbs. while delivering “full computing functionality.” The U100 features a 7.2-inch diagonal liquid crystal display that is backlit to increase brightness.

A half-size 802.11b/g wireless card and a 60GB hard drive are also offered. According to Toshiba, new “miniaturizing technology” used on the U100 motherboard has reduced the size of the unit by 30 percent.

A hard disk drive protector that detects any “sudden acceleration” immediately places the drive into a protected mode “until the system determines it is safe to resume normal operation,” the company claimed. Fingerprint authentication and a Zooming Utility–allowing users to zoom in and out on a screen image–are also featured.

The unit comes with 512MB standard memory and Microsoft Windows XP Professional operating system, making it “a full-featured notebook in a tiny, conveniently portable package,” said Toshiba.

Suggested retail price for the U100 is $1,999, the company added. Information is available at www.toshibadirect.com.

o O&O Software has released O&O Defrag V8.0, a software tool designed to optimize the performance of desktop PCs and servers.

According to Berlin, Germany-based O&O, “fragmented files are the main cause of performance loss on PC systems today.” The new software recombines such fragmented data on computer drives.

“Using O&O Defrag will ensure users 100 percent performance out of their desktop PCs and servers, leading to both time and money saved,” the company stated. The software’s “OneButtonDefrag” capability “automatically ascertains the optimal settings for each individual system.”

A Screen Saver Mode in the software allows for defragmentation to be done while the user is on a break or away from the computer. “As soon as the screen saver is ended by the user, the defragmentation halts, to be continued at a later time,” said O&O.

The product is compatible with all versions of Windows XP/2003/2000/NT and is available in Professional and Server Editions. Suggested retail price for the Professional Edition for Windows desktop PCs is $44.95. The Server Edition for Windows servers is priced at $219. A free trial version of O&O Defrag is available for download at http://www.oo-software.com/.

The Itronix Duo-Touch provides mobile users with an integrated global positioning system to help busy agents and other insurance professionals find their way in the field.